How does Facebook use this information?
Now that Facebook knows you were born in Iowa (as was your sister, Mary), eat at Chili’s, and listen to a lot of Cardi B (because you log into Spotify with your FB account), it can personalize your experience, the company says. It might tailor your News Feed to show something Mary hearted or commented on, because she’s your sister, and you two “Like” a lot of the same things. Maybe you’ll see a cooking site’s recipe for copycat Chili’s queso. And Ticketmaster might advertise Cardi B’s tour for you, since you have location services turned on, and she didn’t cancel her Dallas performance.
It’s about more than ads
Feeling targeted by Facebook ads is often the first people think of when the topic turns to how the site is using your data. But your whole experience is curated to what the site’s analytics think you want. And remember that it’s gathering this not just from ads you click on, but groups you’re a part of, apps you use, and sites you visit — even when you’re not logged in.
Facebook has been accused of not just including groups, but also excluding them. A makeup company might choose to exclude men over the age of 65, for example. This crosses the line into discrimination if rental companies and landlords are putting “stay-at-home moms” and “corporate moms” on the list they don’t want to advertise to, according to a lawsuit that the National Fair Housing Alliance recently filed. The company is facing another lawsuit in Illinois, which claims Facebook violated the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act by utilizing users’ photos for its facial recognition technology without their permission.
But the ads are eerily accurate
Any site that has a Facebook “Like” button can send data, including your IP address, back to the social media company, even if you don’t click on it. Websites use Facebook’s advertising pixel to have the site target you with ads if you add flip-flops to a shopping cart — but don’t buy them — or search for “New Orleans” on a hotel-booking site. Retailers and other sites can create “Custom Audiences” from this information, then have Facebook target everyone who visited a specific URL, or watched one of their videos.
You have control over whether your posts are public or more private, but you can’t control your “Friends.”
Facebook is getting rid of its “Categories” advertising feature over the next six months, but that doesn’t mean it’s collecting less data. Data brokers like Acxiom and Experian know a lot about you, too. (You might remember the man who received a letter from OfficeMax addressed to “Daughter killed in a car crash”; the company blamed a data broker.) They gain details thanks to public records and databases like property records, loyalty card programs, surveys, voter rolls, dealership sales, and more, according to The Washington Post.
Using the profile of a person who recently bought a Camry, for example, they can use Facebook’s categories to find others who might also want to buy that car. Data brokers will continue to mine your information, and advertisers can still create targeted ad campaigns, but they have to do so using “data that they have the rights, permissions, and lawful basis to use,” Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, told The Wall Street Journal.